Inbreeding or breeding amongst family led to the extinction of woolly mammoths

Ever heard the scientific reason behind not marrying in the family? It is called lack of genetic diversity which ultimately kills off a whole species. One of the glaring examples is the lovable Parsi community in India. They are a dwindling race, with only a few hundred left. he reason is persistent inbreeding in the community.

Here we are trying to draw a context towards understanding a study that was recently published on why the last of the mammoths died.

The earth was inhabited by the woolly mammoths some thousands of years ago. The movie “Ice Age” have these mammoths, recreated in animation, playing the lead roles. However, four thousand years ago this breed of mammoths became extinct. Their frozen fossils have been found in the Wrangel Island, the north of Russia. This region is in the Arctic region.

It was studied and the findings revealed something interesting. It was found that the mammoths had died suddenly. But the reason as is discovered now reveals that genetic diseases had contributed to their deaths. As they mated amongst themselves they died of disorders and their numbers started dwindling. This is termed as detrimental genetic mutations which occur due to the presence of similar genes.

The question that remains open is how can the researchers find out what happened? It was made possible due to technology. The scientists raised the genes from the dead, synthesizing and cloning them. The process then involved, placing them into gene-edited elephant embryos in a petri dish.

Here, observation allowed the researchers to decipher how proteins expressed by the genes interacted with other genes and molecules.

These mammoths have been researched on for a while now. A study in 2017 had done comparative research on the Wrangel woolly mammoths along with the healthier mammoths that existed earlier. The results published in 2017 mentions “accumulation of detrimental mutations, consistent with genomic meltdown”.

 Interestingly the woolly mammoth has living kins even today. They are three Asian elephants.


Quick genetic studies of these elephants reveal that the mammoth had the following:

  • They had lost their sense of smell
  • The dwindling population was high on male infertility
  • They suffered from diabetics
  • Neurological defects were evident in them

These adverse effects of inbreeding cannot be denied. The study on the mammoths should be proof enough to understand that inbreeding is probably the fastest way genetically engineer a species to extinction.